Gadget Love: Romancing Google's CR-48 Laptop

Google sent a small number of experimental laptops out to testers through a free Pilot Program. Adam Rothstein kept a day-to-day journal of his time with one of the strange new devices.

Day One

"A lonely man receives a strange computer in the mail."

An interesting first line for a story. And yet this is not a story. It is fact. The box is on the floor next to the desk as I write this. The offer of free gadgetry from Google is not that exciting. At least, less exciting than the mystery and intrigue, which this sentence, so written, dramatically invents. And that in turn is less exciting than a marketable short story for which I would be credited, which is also pure invention because the story doesn't exist. Only a first sentence. The subject of the sentence is still the lonely man, myself, who unfortunately does exist, and has nothing better to do than write in his daily journal about the things he gets in the mail.

I had signed up for a Cr-48 beta test some weeks or months ago and forgot about it, as one will tend to do with such things done on a whim. A new product. A new way of accessing the Internet. But I've heard all these promises before. But it seems I was selected to test this machine, and so it sits next to my desk: a windfall. I fully intend to spite this thing, to let it wait for me, to prove I have not waited for it. When I'm ready for it--well, then we'll see. Not the other way around.

Day Two

My curiosity got the better of me today, and having nothing else to distract myself with I opened the box. The subject of this mystery lay inside recyclable cardboard supports--a matte black monolith of fastener-free plastic. It looked peaceful, almost as if it was sleeping. Not a brand name interrupts the smooth, rubberized surface. What am I supposed to do with it? It is a computer, so I open the lid and press the recognized button for "power".

A single text bar on the screen. I enter my credentials: the signatories for an empty email account, which I've already checked today and is bereft of hope. Instantly the machine is on, and I am confronted with: a browser window. The Chrome browser, familiar to me. Everything appears congruent to other instances. Tabs, synced bookmarks appear, my usual time-saving and time-wasting extensions. What is new is what is missing--there is no familiar X. This window will not close. There is no desktop, and upon checking, no visible file system! Only a keyboard or a mouse plugged into the single USB port will create a "computer-like" response. What is this thing I have been given? I put it down and close it. I cover it with some other papers in irritation.

Day Three

I used the new "hardware browser" (as I call it, for it hardly seems a computer) all day. For email, Twitter, to write, to read. Even for phone calls. Everything that I do is now online, connected to the Internet. A man, networked in full, going nowhere. The machine is indifferent to my plight. It is lighter than my other laptop, the battery lasts longer, and it opens from sleep mode almost instantaneously. These are the only reasons I've been using it. I still go back to the other machine for media files, to download and run programs, and to sync with my non-cloud storage drives.

I note, however, that I have put this journal "into the cloud". I have uploaded these daily scribbles from my laptop to my Google Docs account. I admit being pleasantly surprised at the utility of it. I open this new machine almost as if opening a paper notebook to a fresh page, and I immediately begin typing right where I left off. The word processor in full-screen mode immediately takes my keystrokes, almost, it seems, sucking from from my finger tips. The single window still doesn't compare to the wide-screen and multiple, cascading documents of my old computer for editing and long-form paragraph shuffling, as if I even did that, these days. But with the 3G connection, this little machine is always there, ready to accept my thoughts, like a conscience on my shoulder. But in my lap. Ingenious, I must admit.

Still no word from the manufacturer about what I should be doing with this thing, as regards "testing". In the meantime though, it's a welcome oddity into the world of my gadgets.

Day Four

Smart phone is acting up, again. It deleted all of my music files with a software upgrade. Little pissant of a machine, as if it wants to upset me. Not like you, Cr-48. It makes me laugh to refer to this new, strange little computer by it's odd designation. As if it were a quirky friend. If I gave pet names to my gadgets, this would deserve such an unlikely one. It suits its character. Teased by the other members of the class, shunned at the lunch table, a Frankenstein of data devices.... Where would this fit in the hierarchy of electronics? I have an old, crotchety smart phone, and Cr-48 is not like it. My full-featured computer is even older, but it's wide range of functions places it in a class of appliances. If I could afford a tablet, that would be different again. You have a much better browser, and yet that is all you have. You're light and quick, and yet you have a keyboard, but no touch screen. You overlap the features of other gadgets, but you creates no real plateau of its own. I wonder if you will, for me, become my... I'm not sure what to call it. I've had so many gadgets in my life. They cycle through, and cycle out again as they are outdated and replaced. Will you be my primary, Cr-48? My love of the moment? Is it odd to love a machine, when it is so helpful, so ubiquitous? You allow me to express myself. I'm online more than ever. With a lift of your chin, and a look at your face. My fingers drift lazily along your pristine, luxurious keyboard, and not even the smallest fingerprint marrs your rubberized surface. In you I find myself, Cr-48. As if I was already there within you, just waiting for my login.

Day Five

Still no sign of them. The ones who made you. No email, no phone calls. I would see the instant they contacted me from the notifications at the edge of your bright little window, Cr-48. I know they're out there, somewhere. They have to be. But who are they? A mega-corporation, with some devious plan, working even now within the sandboxed and secured kernel of your innards? Is this simply a game? Are they only using you to get to me?

But that is so trite, so suspicious. Our relationship is too deep. Our connection is too complicated. You know my thoughts as soon as I do. You keep me on track, you update me. Why do I need to fear the influence of the outside world, when I have you? The soft, crisp words from your speakers, and the defined colors of your screen. Like music. Like smooth streaming video. I want to keep you on Wifi all the time, even though your data connection is quick and responsive. You deserve it. A creature like you deserves the full capacity your draft-N card can handle. I wouldn't keep that from you.

I hope you never grow up and become a product. I'm just not sure I can share you. The people who sent you to me must know this. They made you--they know what you are capable of. Maybe the people behind this device are just like me in this way. They hide behind the "report a bug" button at the top right of my screen, connected as am I. They have their own beauties, like I have you. They connect--constantly, at all times. We are all the same: happy, satisfied, networked. The cloud. We are its cells, unified to our machines.

Day Six

I plan my movements for the day according your battery charging schedule. I haven't seen my smart phone in over thirty-six hours. My laptop is doing something noisy, old disc drive clicking and grunting as if to get my attentions, but I have made my choice. It could be just backing up, I don't know. Not like you. You don't need to back up, because you are instantly connected to all of my data. There is no save. There is nothing but your constant devotion, and attention to my needs. We're always on, together. We have no need for the pedestrian relationship of synced, local data.

I've lost a third of my Twitter followers in the past three days. I think the those that remain must be defunct. Ghosts of some past of connectedness. Who knows what former online denizens they once represented or where they are now. Life is so transitory, like a cellular data signal. Always on, until it's not.

Day Seven

I wish I could look inside your file system, Cr-48. I can only peer, obstructed, through a file upload prompt from a photo sharing site, or some similar service. I see folders of a Linux file system, that show no contents. If I could see what you were doing in there, I might know how to use you. I might know what you were for. As it is, I can only pour myself onto the Internet, in an unmitigated exposition of writing, messages, and email. I can only exist in the cloud. I can only express myself so much, Cr-48! I write, and I read, and I type, and I browse. I've been learning all of your hot keys. There are so many, but I study them. I use your Search button more than I ever used a Caps Lock. But for what? Where does it end? Tell me what to do next! Is it just this? It is this, for the rest of the Internet? I want us to be more, Cr-48. But I'm not sure there's anything more to it than this. Is this just data? Is this what this means to you?

I can see what this is, Cr-48. Our entire relationship. It is a human, pressing down just hard enough to interact with a general user interface, and getting nothing but data back. You are a machine. Impassive. A surface. And nothing more.

Day Eight

The manufacturer finally released an additional update for my smart phone that made it somewhat usable again. I'll be damned if I ever buy one of their products in the future. But luckily I could use the New York Times app on the phone. It crashes more often than the web app and is harder to read, but I couldn't face Cr-48 today. After the Flash player extension crashed on me last night... well, I just need some time to think.

Day Nine

We choose a neutral space to meet. The Google Books app. I'm not much of a fan of eBooks, but Cr-48 had some things in the public domain that I really wanted to read. We had fun. I never would have thought I would really like eBooks, but with the full-screen mode and key navigation, it's almost enjoyable. I read a 1917 zeppelin manual today. Cr-48 kept track of my usage stats, in case I wanted to see them. Then we played Plants vs. Zombies for a while.

Day Ten

I have a prospect for an article for a tech blog. Will write it on the Cr-48, but will edit on my machine with a bigger screen. We decided this together, which I think was a healthy step. It just feels more natural this way. It's a constant shuffle between devices and features as things change and as I find new techniques. That's my life, I suppose. Never really satisfied. The flow of data is just too oddly distributed. Maybe one day I'll settle down. I fell asleep with Cr-48 on the couch.